Blair ordered to appear before MPs for OTRs inquiry

Ex-prime minister summoned over scheme dealing with republican ‘on the runs’

The summons, which is highly embarrassing for Mr Blair, is the first time a House of Commons inquiry has had to order a former prime minister to come before it to give evidence. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

The summons, which is highly embarrassing for Mr Blair, is the first time a House of Commons inquiry has had to order a former prime minister to come before it to give evidence. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

 

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has been summoned to give evidence to MPs about the decision to tell hundreds of republican “on the runs” they were not wanted for prosecution.

The summons, which is highly embarrassing for Mr Blair, is the first time a House of Commons inquiry has had to order a former prime minister to come before it to give evidence.

The Conservative chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Laurence Robertson, wrote to Mr Blair saying they been trying since last March to get him to give “a date and a time of your choosing”.

The committee, which is dominated by Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs, was infuriated when they discovered Mr Blair had spent much of the last few weeks in the UK.

Saying this was “extremely disrespectful” to the Commons, Mr Robertson told the former prime minister MPs had been “particularly disappointed” at his failure to find “an hour or so to meet us”.

He has now been summonsed following a unanimous decision of MPs present at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday to appear on Wednesday, January 14th.

Mr Blair and the House of Commons are now in uncharted waters, since the power of the Commons to impose sanctions for someone failing to appear before MPs , which is a contempt of the House, are unclear in modern times.

The last time a non-member of the Commons was reprimanded for contempt was in January 1957 when a newspaper editor, John Junor of The Sunday Express was forced to apologise before MPs for an article about petrol supplies.

Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, refused a request from a House of Commons inquiry investigating phone-hacking in 2012, but they backed down and appeared after they were faced with a summons similar to the one issued to Mr Blair.

Mr Blair’s reluctance to turn up has been evident for months. In a letter sent to the committee last month, he said that he would have “nothing to say which will be new to you, the members of your committee or the people of Northern Ireland”.

Emphasising that he gave evidence to the private inquiry led by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Blair told the committee: “Giving information in public means that I would have rather less to say.”

Offering to supply written evidence, he went on: “However, if you continue to insist on my attendance, then I will ask my office to look for a date in the New Year, but I must emphasise that my commitments . . . will make this challenging.”

Two weeks ago, the committee offered to hear evidence from him by videolink “from anywhere in the world”, Conservative MP Oliver Colville told The Irish Times, but he “didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to us”.

In her report, Lady Justice Hallett concluded the letters of comfort were not unlawful and did not amount to an amnesty for terrorists, but some had been wrongly issued, including one to John Downey. His trial for the murders of four soldiers in the Hyde Park 1982 bombing collapsed when the court ruled he could not be tried because he had had a legitimate expectation he would not face prosecution since he had been told he was not wanted.

Meanwhile, MPs have also ordered former Northern Ireland Office official, Mark Sweeney, who wrote many of the letters, to come before them on January 14th, despite the clear opposition of Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers.

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